Eric Valli's film 'Himalaya' is one of the most beautifully shot films of the last twenty years. Set in the mountains of Dolpa in rural Tibet, this film could have taken place last week or even back a hundred years ago as we follow a culture that has been around for hundreds of years. The members of this culture still lives their lives today the same as they did centuries ago, meaning they are completely cut off from the world. These villagers live off the land, make their own clothes, kill their own food, and are just trying to survive the ways of their ancestors.
Valli is most known for his work with National Geographic as a photographer and filmmaker, and in a lot of ways, this is basically a National Geographic movie with stunning views of the Himalayas and an in depth look at a certain culture that has refused to live in modern times. But the main difference here is that this has a narrative story plot to it. Valli used all real villagers and chiefs in his movie with the exception of two characters, so this is as real as we can get, without actually journeying to this village ourselves. Most of the locations here are only accessible by foot with dangerous terrains around every corner. There is a reason why this film took almost a year to film, but it was all worth it, because it looks incredible on-screen.
'Himalaya' centers on a village run by Chief Tinle who is not too far off from retiring as leader of the village, with his hope that his son Lhakpa will take his place, followed by his grandson. This village survives by taking an annual trek across the dangerous mountains and valley, herding their yaks and taking their cultivated salt to trade for grain so that they can survive the winter. However, Lhakpa dies on one of the treks, leaving nobody in Tinle's family ready for the role of Chief.
Lhakpa's best friend, Karma, acts as 'vice-president' of the village, and since Lhapka passed away, Karma is next in line to lead. Tinle does not like this, and since his grandson is too young to lead, and his other older son has chosen the monk-lifestyle, there is no choice. Tinle also thinks that Karma is in some way responsible for Lhapka's death, in so that he could have the village under his own guidance. Going against a mystic message on when to leave for the annual trek, Karma takes off on the long journey with the young men of the village, but fails. When Tinle gets word of this, he gathers the older men of the village and treks out on their own. And in order to succeed here, the older men must take the most dangerous path as time is a factor.
It's a story we have all heard before. This takes a look at a new generation who has a new way of doing things as the older generation are set in their ways. Meanwhile, we see that the younger members of the tribe and the older members aren't all too different at all. In fact, I would say that Karma and Tinle are quite similar, but are decades apart in age. It's a very simple story and there is not much to the narrative part of the film. Rather, we get to travel with these villagers and see all of their customs and various parts of their culture through the beautiful landscapes. Hell, we even get to see a Tibetan sky burial, which could compete with the goriest horror film ever made.
'Himalaya' is a gorgeous film to watch and it's easy to understand why it was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars when it came out. There isn't much to the script here, and the actors are all real-life villagers, which doesn't help our connectivity or emotions for the characters. However, if you look at it from a documentary stance, it's a great film that teaches us about culture that was on this Earth long ago, and is still here today doing the same age old things that their ancestors did long ago. One must think with all the continents that are connected by internet, phones, and televisions, how long does this culture have left before they are forced into city-life.
'Himalaya' comes with a great 1080p HD transfer presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The image looks fantastic and natural. There seems to be no severe digital makeover with a nice fine layer of grain to give it a grand filmic look. Everything looks very real, with no stylistic colors to hinder the image.
The detail is very sharp and showcases every wrinkle in these elderly faces. The depth of the fields and mountains looks amazing here too. There are a couple of softer shots in the film, but not many, and it doesn't take away from the viewing experience. The colors are well balanced and saturated, with some great black levels that run deep and inky. You will almost feel like you are watching an IMAX presentation here. This is a top notch video presentation.
This release comes with wonderful lossless DTS-HD 5.1 audio mix. The dialogue is always crystal clear and well-balanced on the center channel. The English subtitles do a good job. The ambient noises of birds crowing, yaks running around, and tons of nature sounds, emit from the surrounds quite often and sound impressive.
The score and chanting monks sound very good too, and immerses you in this culture if you have it on the right volume. There are no pops, cracks, or hissing here, giving this release a solid audio presentation.
'Himalaya' is no doubt one beautiful film. While the narrative story line won't move you, the pure brilliance of the filmmaking and landscapes will. Plus it's amazing to see that this culture and people still exist. The video and audio presentations look amazing with a decent making of extra and an informative commentary track. If you're curious about different cultures and love seeing incredible images on screen, then I definitely recommend this.